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Channel playout: How multi-platform delivery & flexible workflows are evolving to reshape the viewing experience

By Shaun Lim

With content increasingly being consumed across multiple platforms, broadcasters and content providers have been compelled to look for ever more innovative ways to attract and retain eyeballs.

For many, this has been a formidable challenge, exacerbated by factors such as platform fatigue and subscriber churn, said Andy Warman, CTO, Video, Imagine Communications.

Speaking to APB+, he said, “Attempting to stem the tide of platform hopping and drive growth while cutting costs, media companies have begun bundling streaming services. The launch of the Comcast StreamSaver bundle, which packages Peacock, Netflix and Apple TV+, is a recent, headline-making example.

“At the same time, both consumers and bundlers are experimenting with advertising models, trading between free but ad-supported, paid but with ads, and premium ad-free subscriptions — putting streaming platforms in the difficult position of having to support multiple models simultaneously.

“There also remains a stubborn disparity between the cost per mile (CPM) values of traditional television ads and online platform ads, even as consumers shift to online platforms.”

For Lelde Ardava, Sales & Account Manager at Veset, one of the main considerations for multi-platform delivery strategies today is the fragmentation of audiences. “Catering to diverse preferences across various platforms and devices is a difficult task, and requires consistently tailored content strategies,” she explained.

As the rate of technological integration hastens to reflect changing consumer habits, this presents another challenge — reducing the difficulties integrating processes across various platforms, devices and content workflows to ensure a consistent and uniform user experience.

Ardava continued. “With this comes another challenge of data management and ensuring that content is effectively managed and analysed given the increased amounts of data having to be processed. This is essential to understand consumer behaviour and preferences, but as consumer habits change it becomes considerably harder to achieve consistent results.”

A potential game changer, as Veset sees it, is the emergence of AI to reshape playout and delivery.

Ardava described the potential for change offered by AI in broadcasting, media and entertainment as “beyond comprehension”, and it is already bringing about significant changes to content workflows.

She added, “We, as a cloud playout provider, see how easy it is to launch new channels for customers, and AI with its automation or, for instance, chatbot assistance is a great help for all parties involved.

“Automation is becoming an ever increasingly common occurrence among broadcasting and content delivery workflows, with AI automating routine tasks, enhancing operational efficiency and reducing the potential for human error.”

She is encouraging broadcasters and content providers to seize the opportunities for personalisation and customisation offered by AI. For instance, the influx of AI tools in content workflows is helping to create more personalised viewer experiences, with the ability to suggest content based on viewer preferences and viewing history.

“AI is also developing the role of predictive analysis, enabling broadcasting and content workflows to facilitate predictive analytics, forecast channel performance and viewer engagement and enable proactive content management,” she added.

Imagine’s Warman concurred, “Digital is settling into a mainstream delivery platform, making technologies that enable the consolidation of digital and linear workflows – and teams – increasingly important.”

He explained, “This consolidation brings with it the opportunity for the advanced advertising decision models prevalent in the digital domain to create added value in linear distributions through localisation and other distribution variations. At the same time, consolidation enables linear ad sales systems to directly fulfil into the digital inventory. 

“This convergence of digital linear services and broadcast operations benefits media organisations and viewers alike — helping to reduce operations overhead, enable the creation of more sophisticated services, and provide consumers with a broadcast-quality experience no matter how or where they choose to watch.”

Ad-ding value to the viewing experience

As Warman attested earlier, more ad-supported content offerings are beginning to emerge, although it is questionable if viewers truly welcome the ubiquitous presence of ads in their viewing experience.

Netflix for example, dropped its basic ad-free plan for new subscribers in the US and UK last July, causing a backlash among some disgruntled customers.

Analysing this development, Warman mused, “The cost of creating and delivering high-quality content must, of course, be offset by some kind of revenue stream, whether it’s advertising, subscription, embedding/placement, or a combination of them all.

“Every content aggregator/bundler is searching for the best mix of revenue streams — balancing consumer wants, platform capabilities, and cost of delivery.”

While he acknowledged that consumers, if given the choice, would rather not watch ads, most will pragmatically accept some advertising in exchange for low- or no-cost services. Less intrusive ads can help, said Warman, including adding or overlaying a target brand during live events, which are not well suited to frequent ad breaks.

Other examples include inserting ads triggered by the subject of a show or the in-game action of a sporting event, rather than running an irrelevant set of ads. “Interactive ads that enable a consumer to learn more about the product or the content they are watching can reduce frustration,” Warman added.

“In an ad-funded monetisation model, the ability to deliver a higher quality viewing experience is essential to supporting premium CPMs and yields. Repetitive ads — especially in the same order over and over — exacerbate ad fatigue and begin to have a negative brand impact.

“Slates also negatively impact viewers’ impression of the content and the brands, and they send a clear message to other advertisers that the programming is low value.”

According to Veset’s Ardava, Netflix’s cancellation of its ad-free option, should serve as a wakeup call to prioritise content monetisation, but in a way that ensures satisfaction across the collective consumer audience,

She recommended focusing on value creation, or ensuring that the ads or monetisation methods directly relate to viewers’ interests and preferences, such as contextual-based advertising.

“Broadcasters and media organisations can also consider the importance of transparency and control, maintaining a high-quality production and ensuring that ads are relevant and minimally invasive to the overall viewing experience.”

Like Warman, Ardava sees viewers being tolerant to ads, provided they are comfortable and relevant to the audience watching them. “This then leads us to the issue of quality and relevance, and the crucial nature of maintaining high-quality production while ensuring that ads are relevant and minimally invasive.”

Shaping next-generation playout systems

As the broadcast and media industry continues to find innovative ways to do more with less, playout systems are increasingly delivering higher levels of automation and integration.

Warman highlighted, “With organisations looking to consolidate the best capabilities of online/digital advertising and linear distribution, it’s important to translate this into requirements on the playout systems — in particular, the ability to simultaneously generate on-prem SDI or IP/2110 outputs and Transport Streams (TS) for online distribution transcoders.

“These need to be equally decorated with SCTE triggers and other distribution metadata, integrated back to appropriate advertising sales systems.”

He also noted that as the number of channels and channel variations continue to increase due to content and advertising localisations, the ability to link and unlink playlists and simultaneously manage many channel variations by a common operator becomes a critical requirement.

“The increase in ad value from localisation cannot incur a significant increase in operational cost,” Warman cautioned.

Scalability tops Ardava’s list when it comes to building an adaptable playout system. “Design systems that can easily scale up and down based on demand without significant overhauls perform better overall and ensure a higher level of competency across robustness and quality.”

She also prioritised the leveraging of cloud technologies for flexibility and interoperability. Having secure and reliable cloud-based solutions in content distribution, she said, is vital to reduce dependency on physical infrastructure and allow the playout system to be remote and hybrid friendly, thus future-proofing it for multiple needs and requirements.

“Above all, it is essential to ensure that you are continually innovating the system, staying up to date with the latest technologies and industry trends, and continually adapting the playout system.

“Without this ability for evolution, the playout system will quickly become outdated and be left behind in an industry that is moving super-fast,” Ardava concluded.

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